(ABC4) – In case you didn’t hear (and it’s not very likely at this point), nearly the entire state of Utah was slammed with a major winter storm Tuesday night.
It snowed — a lot.
However, what you may have missed in person, unless you happened to be in the right place at the right time with eyes to the skies, was an unusual occurrence during the storm.
Not only did a flurry of snow fill the air, but for a brief moment, thunder and lightning were also a part of the equation.
ABC4 Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy explains that the rapid shift in temperatures and unstable atmospheric conditions contributed to the unusual sighting of thundersnow.
“It’s a rare occurrence and it’s basically a thunderstorm that has snow falling to the surface instead of rain,” she says. “Convection creates the favorable charge separation for lightning.”
In layman’s terms, the warm air that was present at the surface in the area earlier in the day was triggered into a ‘lifting mechanism’ by the rapidly moving cold front that swooped into the state later at night. The resulting unstable air eventually hit a pressure level that caused convection, setting the stage for a dazzling demonstration of chaotic weather.
Fellow ABC4 Meteorologist Thomas Geboy found the display to be quite amazing, as illustrated by a video he posted on his Twitter.
By his account, thundersnow was seen all over the state on Tuesday night, near Zion National Park, by Salt Lake City, and also out around Tooele.
While he was familiar with the phenomenon due to his training and education in meteorology (A team of meteorologists who know their stuff, imagine that!), Geboy still got a chuckle out of the reactions he saw on social media.
It’s understandable, though, he says.
“It’s fascinating because you get the white-hot lightning going across the sky and then you match that with the snowflakes, it always looks really cool,” says Geboy. “And I got very excited when I heard it last night, but that’s just because I’m a weather nerd. But I know a lot of folks, anytime they hear it or see it, it’s always something that catches people off guard.”
Lightning, or the cherry on top of a huge storm, as he puts it, just illustrated how much activity was taking place above Utah residents throughout the evening.
“It was definitely a potent system, you had a lot of dynamics that were driving this system,” Geboy explains. “And yesterday, when I left work, we were sitting at 55 degrees, and then you got a potent cold front that came through and that that changeover happened really, really quickly around eight, nine o’clock. And then as soon as that changeover happened, that it was snowing quite heavily and it happened quickly.”
Nearly as quickly as a flash of lightning and a boom of thundersnow.